Hello and Goodbye, London

It was when I was having dinner with my family that my father brought to my attention I’d never posted about the London portion of our babymoon. Blame my ‘baby brain’, but I’d totally forgot to press ‘Publish’ on this post! So much overdue, here is the Black Beret in London:

We started our day with a hearty breakfast at the Blades Hotel before packing a lunch and heading out for a day of sightseeing. It was a beautiful sunny day – blue skies as far as the eye could see!

Photo of Westminister Abbey

Westminister Abbey

We took a double decker bus (sitting at the very front on the top) to Westminister Abbey shortly before opening. To our disappointment, you couldn’t even poke your head in without paying £22! So we aborted that mission. That was like $44 each CAD.

The Tube from Westminister to Ladbroke Grove

We took the tube train towards our next destination. The lady serving breakfast at our hotel this morning had recommended we check out the vintage market in Notting Hill this morning. It sounded right up my alley!

Entering Westminister Abbey Station, we were amazed how deep and big this Station was! They also had glass barriers separating the track from the platforms with doors that would open once the train would arrive. Looks like an effective way to reduce jumpers/falls.

Civic Design in the London Underground

As a designer working working on the public service. I found it interesting how the Mayor of London’s office appeared to handle London Transit. All the safety posters had “Mayor of London” at the bottom inline with the Underground identifier. I also found it interesting how low the colour contrast was on posters for a country that had been champions of accessibility for longer than the Province of Ontario. The consistent branding across the City and Underground here was impressive – but that doesn’t surprise me as I’m a huge fan of GOV.UK brand guidelines and accessibility practices.

Photo of colourful row houses

Portobello Market

By the time it we got to Notting Hill, it was almost opening time for the Science Museum where Matt wanted to go. I preloaded my maps so I could navigate without tethering to Matt’s data before we went on our separate ways.

The Notting Hill and Portobello Market was mind blowing! It went on and on and on and on, street after street! I got there just as vendors were setting up and had a fun time walking around before the crowds took over.

I kept thinking how much my friend Caitlin or Kitty would have loved this place. It was a vintage lovers heaven! You could buy ANYTHING here! There was food, new and used clothing, antiques, jewelry, fabrics and notions, arts and crafts, flowers, and furniture. They options were endless and just kept going and going!

Photo of eggs, preserves, and bottled goods at a farmers market

Ladgrove Farmers Market

There was a little farmers market set back off the main drag. It was very quiet and pleasant. There were vegetable and herb sellers, bakers, fresh juice makers and even a fresh food stall! That is different than at home!

I was tempted by the baked goods. They had steaming hot sausage rolls, vegetable galettes, and beautiful loaves of bread. However, we were in no need of goodies after such a huge breakfast at the hotel and with the packed sandwiches we had for lunch.

Antique Market

The Antique Market was the busiest street of the market. I ducked in and out of the crowds into the covered vendor stalls. These were a little less crowded, but the walkways were so narrow you were at risk of knocking something over at any moment!

Charity Shops

Behind the street vendors were fancy boutiques, restaurants, and charity shops. I had a fun time going into the consignment stores. Some were better than others. It was impressive to see the available labels – and the fact you could get used Louboutin shoes for a decent price here too! I tried on an All Saints top and a lightweight linen sweater, but neither were very flattering on me. Just as well as I really shouldn’t be buying clothes right now while I’m pregnant…

The Hunt for a Washroom

Ah, the hunt for a public lavatory… You know you’re out of tourist central when people stare at you blankly when you ask for the ‘washroom’! Once I switched to ‘toilet’ people tried to point me in the right direction. One lady even asked if I worked in the market! Apparently there is a separate washroom for locals. I was amused they thought I could be a local!

I eventually found a public washroom, but it was out of order. An old lady then came up to me and started ranting about how the government doesn’t upkeep the public washrooms like they used to. She sent me on a convoluted route to another that “might be operational” but I decided just to purchase a tea to go and use the washroom at a nearby cafe instead.

Clothing Vendors

I was amazed how popular fur coats are here. So many vendors were selling big fur coats and hats – even in March! Sadly no one had fur muffs. I’d been searching for a replacement for mine for two winters now. However, if you are on the market for a vintage fur coat or leather jacket, this was the place to get one! It would only set you back £20 or so.

Photo of grave stones clustered around a tree trunk in a church yard

St. Pancras Old Church

Matt and I had agreed to meet up at the Hardy Tree at the St. Pancras Old Church at 12:30pm. I had been intrigued by this tree since coming upon a photo of it while researching London on Pinterest.

I got off the tube at Kings Crossing St. Pancras. It was a busy place with a spiderweb of streets all around! A police man pointed me in the direction of the church and soon I was out of the chaos of Kings Cross. I got a little lost on my way, but eventually found myself at the back entrance of the church.

It was a peaceful place with trees, graves, and benches scattered about over the green lawn bordered by apartment buildings. A few people were having a stroll or eating their lunch in the park. It was a quiet spot.

Photo of grave stones clustered around a tree trunk in a church yard

Hardy Tree

It didn’t take me long to find the Hardy Tree. It was enclosed by a wrought iron gate and hedge, but the gate was left unlocked. I found it hard to photograph, but glad I saw it nonetheless.

When Matt arrived, we sat on a bench in the graveyard and ate our packed lunch. He was elated from his museum tour! Matt loves all things space related.

After we ate, we wandered into the church. The St. Pancras Old Church was established in 4th century with a replacement built in the mid-1800’s. It’s interior was very simple with white washed walls and wooden pews. A couple candles were lit, but no one was about. It was as quiet as the graveyard outside.

Photo of people strolling along Regents Canal

Regents Canal

Next on our to-see list was Regents Canal with its colourful boats. Google sent us to the wrong Regents Canal, so we had to get back on the tube. Once we were back in Camden, we were thrown into yet another sea of shoppers jostling their way down the street. It was a bit much for us, so we ducked down a side street and weaved our way towards the canal.

I was expecting there to be a bunch of colourfully painted house boats under shady willow trees like in the pictures I’d seen online and on TV. However, the part of Regent Canal we saw wasn’t particularly picturesque and the boats that were passing looked very junky and were driven mostly by partygoers. There were lots of strolling parents though! Every other stroller was a Bugaboo or a Babyzen Yoyo+. The Babyzen appears to be what the Uppababy is to downtown Toronto – it’s like every middle-class parent has one here!

Constitution Pub

While walking along the canal, we passed a canal facing patio that looked inviting. It reminded us on In Deep in Glasgow which we had enjoyed so much last fall. We seated ourselves at the Constitution and went inside to order. I got an alcohol free cider made with berries and cherries by Old Mout Cider out of New Zealand. It was very good! Matt has a half pint of Hop Head, which wasn’t very hoppy at all. He is not impressed how the English appear to always serve their tap beer warm and flat here… We enjoyed the ambience nonetheless!

Cinnamon Bazaar

Matt wanted to do curry on our last night in London, so he did a Yelp search around St. Martins-in-the-field where we were seeing a concert that evening. The top Indian restaurant was booked up, the second was closed, but when Matt called the third on the list, it could seat us at the bar.

After a nap, we got ready and headed to the restaurant for our 6:00pm reservation at the Cinnamon Bazaar. The hostess seated us at the bar then moved us to a table after our appetizers. We ordered one prix fix to share between us and one additional main with naan to give us lots of variety.

The meal started with Indian style tapas that were delicious but I can not describe, then beautifully presented prawns in a chutney, vegetable paneer with naan, then lamb curry with aromatic rice. To finish, we split a ginger carrot sticky toffee pudding with clove ice cream. I ordered cucumber and mint flavoured water and Matt had a beer.

The food was the best Indian food I’d ever had! Unfortunately, the service from the wait staff did not match the quality of the food. They handed us a drink menu but never came back to take our drink order. They forgot our main and handed us a dessert menu. Then they forgot about our dessert and had to be reminded, then disappeared before we could add we wanted to add to the order (we had wanted to get the mince meat naan with cinnamon ice cream to try too!). We had told them when we sat down that we needed to leave by 7, but with them forgetting this and that, we only got our main after 7:00pm.

The streets were a seething mass of people when we exited the restaurant. Sports fans were everywhere, chanting and drinking on the streets. It was party central at Trafalgar Square!

Photo of a church interior with white walls, gold trim, and candles

Concert at St. Martin-in-the-fields

St. Martin-in-the-fields was an ornate church built in the 1700’s. The interior was lit by candles and grand chandeliers and the performers of Trafalgar Sinfonia were set up ahead of the alter, lit by a blue light.

Our ‘obstructed view seats’ were actually not that obstructed, and we had a wonderful time watching the conductor, Ivor Setterfield. He was like an actor and dancer on stage, miming the emotion and movement of the music on stage with intensity! I’d never seen anything like it! He was wonderful.

We went down to the Cafe in the Crypt during intermission. They had a water stand down there and you could enjoy concessions while standing on people’s graves! It was very macabre when you thought about it – but the place was so brightly lit and busy it was easy to overlook the gravestones at your feet.

Vilvaldi’s Four Seasons was played after the intermission. One of the lead violinists, Richard Milone, led the group, stopped to read us the poems that inspired the music. He was full of such passion and excitement for the music! The music sounded different live. After an enthusiastic applause, they played a tango for us as an encore.

All through the performance, we could hear the chants of the football fans outside in Trafalgar Square, even through the heavy oak doors! Exiting the performance, we found people drinking on the church steps, swarms of people filling the streets and climbing as far up the statue in the square as they could get! It was absolute mayhem resembling an insect infestation! Toronto Maple Leafs fans are nothing like this…

Photo of the concert program for Vivaldi four seasons

Last Night in London

We caught the bus home to Pimlico without incident. We sat up top at front again, which was very thrilling even in my sleepy state. Matt had planned for us to go for a night walk along the Thames and one last drink at a pub. This all sounded lovely, but I was too tired and was concerned about all the packing we had left to do.

It took a long time to pack all our stuff. We also found out that the clocks changed the next morning in London, so we’d loose an hour of sleep! Also, there was reduced public transit service on Sundays, so we’d need to walk to the station with all our baggage.

Photo of a Paddington bear stuffy by a plane window overlooking the airport tarmac

Journey Home

We checked out of the Blades Hotel at 8am and made our way to Victoria Station. We got a refund on our Oyster Cards by using the kiosks nearest to the stairs of the Underground. The 8:30am Gatwick Express train to the airport had been cancelled, so we were directed to the 8:45 milk run train to catch our flight. It made for a stressful start to our journey home.

Gatwick Airport

Once at the airport, we took the shuttle to North Terminal, checked our bags, and made our way through security quickly. I was eager to pick up some Beatrice Potter and Paddington items for the baby, but the Harrods at North Terminal was sold out of baby items!

The official Duty Free shop just had Winnie the Pooh and was charging £12 for what had been £8 at the Duty Free Harrods! I couldn’t bring myself to pay that much for Pooh when I’d had my heart set on Peter Rabbit. I settled on a charming Paddington Bear teddy at the Harrods Duty Free shop. It was £16 at Harrods, £20 at Duty Free, and even more over that at the airport toy kiosk!

The Harrods lady was very nice and checked all the stock on floor and in the back for Peter Rabbit baby items. She said they had a bunch yesterday, but they were completely out of stock now! Boo… Matt pointed out that the baby can grow into the big teddy bear.

Unlike the South Terminal that we were at on our way to Venice, the North Terminal had waiting areas at their gates. They announced our gate at 10:40 and we made our way then for our 12:10 flight home. The plane took off at 12:44 and soon we were in the clouds saying goodbye to England.

Reflections on the way home

The highlight of the trip for me was Burano. It had character and flare that felt quite unique. We loved the coloured houses, the canals, and details down every street. Matt’s highlight of the trip was Stonehenge – we both would really like to go back there! It was quite special to see two concert at prestigious venues this trip too: one in Venice at La Fenice and one in London at St. Martin-in-the-fields.

I was a little sad to be leaving already. I felt like our trip could have been longer… Despite how crowded and dirty London was with people littering, vomiting, pissing, swearing all the time, trailing blood on the sidewalk day and night – I did actually like the city!

One thing that I couldn’t get quite over about London was the overwhelming amount of extreme wealth there was in that city. It’s one thing to have a neighbourhood or two of luxury houses and boutiques, but another to have it repeated again and again as you make your way through the centre of the city.

The poverty wasn’t as apparent as in New York City, but you know it is there. There were a couple beggars here and there and some people sleeping on the streets or in tents downtown, but nothing resembling New York City or Toronto. I can only presume London has pushed its vulnerable citizens out further and further to the outer margins of the city to please the powerful and charm the tourists.

Venice on the other hand was a city that catered entirely to tourists. There was wealth there, but as it catered to wealthy tourists, it was different and more discrete. Although Venice was very pretty, it felt weird being in a city that ran entirely on the tourism industry – this coming from someone who grew up in the Niagara Region of Canada! The dependence on the tourism dollar was even more extreme in Venice than even Iceland.

Our hostess at the Blades Hotel was surprised to hear that we stayed in Venice. She said everyone stays in Verona and takes the train into Venice. That way you avoid the tourist prices on everything. She was from Italy and she said a coffee should be 1€, not 3.50€ like in Venice! If ever we go back (neither of us are eager) we will have to remember her advice.

Because our trip was such a whirlwind tour, I didn’t have time to really stop and take pictures. I took snaps with my phone, but setting up my DSLR, the Sony 360 or playing with my GoPro just wasn’t feasible. I had been looking forward to taking lots of shots with my new mirrorless camera, but in the end I didn’t use up even one battery of my battery-hungry camera! We took one video on the 360, but that was it. You need time to compose a shot and get things right. We didn’t get to do that this trip.

We did really well for weather this trip! Despite our dramatic entrance to Venice in a thunderstorm, we had blue skies and sun throughout! The day of our departure was cloudy, but I didn’t even notice until Matt pointed it out. We got to see London in its true form upon our leave.

Our babymoon abroad is now complete. It is exciting to think our next trip abroad will have a little one in tow! It’s going to be very different travelling with a baby.

New adventures of the black beret, the grey cap, and the baby bonnet will be had!